Tips for Selecting a Mental Health Professional

For many Americans seeking help from mental health professionals, selecting a provider is an important decision that should be made carefully. Credentials, competence and your comfort level with the provider are worth considering.

There are different types of professionals out there to help. The following are the most common for mental health care:


Have medical degrees, can prescribe medication and have completed three years of residency training (beyond medical school) in mental health care.


Have a doctorate in psychology and, generally, complete one or two years of internship before licensure.

Professional Counselors

Have a minimum of a master’s degree in a mental health discipline, and at least two years of post-graduate supervised experience.

Marriage and Family Therapists

Typically have a master’s degree or doctorate in marriage and family therapy, and at least one year of supervised practice.

Social Workers

Have a minimum of a master’s degree in social work and at least two years of post-graduate supervised experience.

Who’s the Best Fit?

Finding the right mental health professional requires a bit of work. If you are depressed or have another serious mental illness, it can be challenging to do that work on your own. If you are in this situation, ask family, friends or your primary physician for assistance. Here are some reliable ways to locate a provider:

  • Through referrals by physician, friends or family members
  • Ask your health insurance company for a list of providers
  • Check your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) at work for a referral

Also take into account factors that are important to you like age, race, gender, religion and cultural background. It is not wrong to rule out certain providers because they don’t meet the criteria; you will be establishing a long-term relationship with this person, and you need to feel as comfortable with him or her as possible.

9 Essential Questions to Ask

  1. What types of treatment do you provide?
  2. What is your training or experience with my problem area?
  3. How will we determine treatment goals?
  4. How will we measure my progress?
  5. What do you expect from me?
  6. What are your office hours?
  7. How do you handle emergencies?
  8. Do you charge for missed appointments?
  9. Are you in my health plan’s provider network?

Mental Health Awareness is Key to Getting the Help You Need

Mental illness affects one in five adults in the United States each year; that’s about 43 million people.  The most prevalent mental illnesses are depression and anxiety, affecting 18.1% of ages 18 years and older each year. Emotions are healthy. Humans are designed to experience grief, loss, sadness, and fear. However, if these healthy emotions turn to anxiety or depression, it may be a sign of a deeper issue. Anxiety disorders are treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive the treatment they need.

Reacting to a stressful or life-changing event such as losing a job, or losing a loved one is healthy. As we look to take care of our minds and bodies, it is important to realize the point where sadness turns into depression or worry turns into anxiety attacks.  Being mindful of these distinctions is crucial. When you start to drown your feelings by drinking a few glasses of wine at night to de-stress, or your mood starts to limit your day-to-day activities, this is an indication it is time to stop for a moment and seek help. Depression and anxiety can be a serious condition, impacting every aspect of your life, from your appetite to sleeping.

Most people turn to their primary care health provider; others reach out to a mental health professional for counseling, and some might need more intensive treatment to stay safe and stabilized. Knowing when to ask for help is critical. Keep in mind that if you are feeling down, people are acting concerned about you, and others are helping you more than usual, it is time to ask a professional for help.  There is no shame in asking!

I have patients that routinely tell me that the money spent on counseling is the best investment in themselves they have ever made. Be mindful of how you are feeling. If you are struggling or if you notice that things aren’t right, take the time to talk to your doctor or mental health professional to get back on track and start feeling like yourself again.

Here are six quick tips to help you manage your anxiety and depression:

  1. Turn your bedroom into a Zen palace
  2. Keep a regular bedtime hour
  3. Have a routine one hour before bedtime
  4. Avoid devices with screens, anything that causes stress or mental stimulus before heading to bed
  5. Exercise regularly
  6. Go outside every day

Dr. Nelson is Director of Clinical Services at The Florida House Experience in Deerfield Beach.  The Florida House is an innovative treatment center for mental health and substance use disorders that utilizes a whole person model treating clients medically, clinically, and with the latest technology in order to live happy and productive lives.

Are E-Cigarettes Safe?

In recent years, electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, have flooded the market. Many people are turning to e-cigarettes to help them quit smoking; however, questions remain about their safety and effectiveness.

What is an Electronic Cigarette?

E-cigarettes are battery-powered devices typically made of plastic or metal. E-cigarettes are often created to look like tobacco cigarettes or cigars, and commonly used in place of smoking a tobacco product.

E-cigarettes vaporize the liquid, which usually contains nicotine and other chemicals. The act of inhaling vapor through an e-cigarette is known as “vaping.” Over the past several years, e-cigarette offerings have increased, with hundreds of brands and thousands of flavors to choose.

Why Use an Electronic Cigarette?

Many people are looking to e-cigarettes as a way to slowly wean off traditional, tobacco-containing cigarettes. The amount of nicotine in the vaporized liquid varies, thereby allowing people to reduce the amount of nicotine they use over time gradually. Since vaping e-cigarettes so closely resembles the act of traditional smoking, some believe that e-cigarettes offer a more natural transition to a smoke-free lifestyle than nicotine gum and patches do.

Health Hazards

The vital difference between traditional cigarettes and e-cigarettes is that electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco. However, they still do contain some of the chemicals found in conventional cigarettes like nicotine (unless you choose a nicotine-free cartridge).

Nicotine is a highly addictive stimulant and can cause increased blood pressure and an elevated heart rate. Some e-cigarettes have also been found to contain formaldehyde, a chemical that has the potential to cause cancer.

Adverse effects of nicotine-containing e-cigarettes may include pneumonia, congestive heart failure, disorientation, seizures and other health problems. Nicotine has also been linked to reproductive health problems, diabetes, high blood pressure and respiratory problems.

E-cigarette Regulation

E-cigarettes have been called a “gateway” to smoking and criticized for targeting teenagers with candy-like flavors like chocolate, birthday cake, and cotton candy. When e-cigarettes first entered the market, there was no minimum age requirement for purchasing them.

However, on May 5, 2016, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced it is banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors. Retailers will now be required to verify that all customers are at least 18 years old, and they will no longer be able to distribute free samples. E-cigarettes must also now carry warnings that they contain the addictive substance, nicotine.

Additionally, the FDA requires all e-cigarettes that went on sale after February 2007 to get FDA approval. The e-cigarette market was virtually non-existent before 2007, so this means that every e-cigarette, as well as every flavor and nicotine level, will need to be approved. E-cigarette makers have two years to gain FDA approval for their products.

In Summary

While e-cigarettes were initially promoted as a way to help people quit traditional cigarettes, doubts remain about their safety and long-term health consequences.

For more information on how to quit smoking using FDA-approved methods, visit

Mental Health Awareness: Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders affect over 57 million adults in America—more than 26 percent of the U.S. population.

Anxiety disorders commonly occur in conjunction with other mental or physical illnesses, last at least six months and can get worse without treatment. There are six types of anxiety disorders: panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, social phobia, specific phobia and generalized anxiety disorder.

Panic Disorder

This condition affects about 6 million U.S. adults and is twice as common in women. It is characterized by sudden attacks of terror—known as panic attacks—which are usually accompanied by a pounding heart, sweating, dizziness and/or weakness. During these attacks, sufferers may flush or feel chilled, their hands may tingle or feel numb and nausea or chest pain may occur. Panic attacks usually produce a sense of unreality, a fear of impending doom or a fear of losing control. They can occur at any time—even during sleep. About one-third of people who experience panic attacks become so fearful that they refuse to leave home. When the condition progresses this far, it is called agoraphobia—a fear of open spaces.

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

OCD sufferers have persistent, upsetting thoughts or obsessions, and use rituals to control the anxiety these thoughts produce. Most often, the rituals end up controlling the person with OCD. For example, if someone is obsessed with germs and dirt, he or she may develop a compulsion for excessive hand washing. OCD is estimated to affect over 2 million adults in the United States.

Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)

PTSD develops after a traumatic event or experience that involved physical harm or the threat of it. PTSD is common in war veterans, but it can result from a variety of traumatic incidents, such as kidnapping, abuse or a car accident. People with PTSD may startle easily, become emotionally numb (especially to people with whom they used to be close), lose interest in things they used to enjoy, and become irritable, aggressive or violent. They avoid situations which remind them of the original incident, and anniversaries of the incident are usually very difficult. PTSD affects nearly 8 million adults in the United States but can occur at any age.

Social Phobia

Also called social anxiety disorder, social phobia is diagnosed when individuals become overwhelmingly anxious and excessively self-conscious in everyday social situations. People with this phobia have an intense, persistent and chronic fear of being watched and judged by others and of doing things that will embarrass them. They may worry for days or even weeks before a dreaded situation. Many with social phobia realize that their fear is unwarranted, but are still unable to overcome it. This phobia affects about 15 million American adults.

Specific Phobias

A specific phobia is an intense, irrational fear of something that actually poses little or no threat—such as heights, escalators, dogs, spiders, closed-in places or water. These types of phobias affect over 19 million adults in the United States and affect women twice as often as men. Like social phobia, sufferers understand that these fears are irrational, but feel powerless to stop them. The causes of these phobias are not well understood, but symptoms usually appear in childhood or adolescence and continue into adulthood.

Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)

People with GAD go through the day filled with exaggerated worry and tension, even when there is little or nothing to worry about. An estimated 6.8 million American adults have GAD, and it also affects women twice as often as men. GAD is diagnosed when a person worries excessively about a variety of everyday problems for at least 6 months. Physical symptoms accompanying this condition include fatigue, headaches, irritability, nausea, frequent urination and hot flashes.

Diagnosis and Treatment

In general, anxiety disorders are treated with medication, specific types of psychotherapy or both. Before treatment begins, a doctor must conduct a careful diagnostic evaluation to determine whether a person’s symptoms are caused by an anxiety disorder or a physical problem. Sometimes alcoholism, depression or other coexisting conditions have such a strong effect on the individual that treating the anxiety disorder must wait until those conditions are brought under control.

Those with anxiety disorders usually try several different treatments or combinations of treatment before finding the one that works for them.

How to Get Help

If you think you have an anxiety disorder, the first step to take is to visit your physician. He or she can determine if your symptoms are caused by an anxiety disorder, another medical condition or both. If an anxiety disorder is diagnosed, you will be referred to a mental health professional.

For more information, contact the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) at or

866-615-NIMH (6464).

Source: NIMH